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Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month Promotes Regular Screenings

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 | 04:19am

Colorectal Cancer Often Preventable with Routine Testing

NASHVILLE – Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. The risk of colorectal cancer increases with age, and it is estimated that as many as 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if all men and women aged 50 years or older were routinely screened. As part of the state’s participation in National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month this March, the Department of Health and the Tennessee Cancer Coalition are reminding all Tennesseans over the age of 50 to get screened for colorectal cancer.

“We want Tennesseans to make these important tests part of their routine medical care, and encourage their older relatives to get screened,” said Health Commissioner Susan R. Cooper, MSN, RN. “Colorectal cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States, and one of the most deadly, but many lives could be saved with routine screening.”

In 2007, the most recent year for which national data are available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 142,672 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the United States, and 53,219 people died from it. In Tennessee in 2008, colorectal cancer was the second leading cause of cancer death, claiming 1,221 lives. That number is divided almost equally between men and women.

In most cases, colorectal cancer develops from precancerous polyps, or abnormal growths, in the colon or rectum. Screening tests can find these polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. The tests can also find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best.

The CDC recommends that men and women who have no symptoms or relevant risk factors begin screening for colorectal cancer soon after turning 50, then continue getting screened at regular intervals. However, testing may be needed earlier or more often for individuals who have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, have been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, or have a close relative with any of these conditions. Other risk factors for colorectal cancer include tobacco use, lack of physical activity, being overweight or obese and eating a high-fat diet. Race is also a risk factor, as African Americans are more likely to have colorectal cancer diagnosed in the later and least treatable stages.

Individuals are encouraged to talk with their health care provider about their risk for colorectal cancer to determine the best screening tests and schedule. Several tests are available to screen for colorectal cancer. Some are used alone, while others are used in combination with each other. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends these screening tests:
• Colonoscopy (every 10 years)
• High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (every year)
• Flexible sigmoidoscopy (every five years)

The Tennessee Cancer Coalition, previously known as the Tennessee Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition, a collaboration supported by the Tennessee Department of Health and the CDC, was formed in June 2001 to address and reduce the burden of cancer on the state of Tennessee. In 2005, the TC2 launched a state cancer plan with the goal of preventing and reducing the rate of cancer in Tennessee. With about 250 volunteers, the TC2 has established six regional coalitions throughout the state, but needs additional volunteers to combat colorectal and other cancers.

For more information on Tennessee’s cancer plan and the Tennessee Comprehensive Cancer Control Program, please visit or call TCCCP at 1-800-547-3558. Additional information regarding the CDC's national colorectal cancer prevention programs is available online at

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